The Olympics is barely out of the starting blocks, but it’s already captured the hearts and imaginations of millions. Young medalists, first-timers, thrills and controversy: it can only get better from here, writes ANT SIMS.
With her nails painted in the colours of the Lithuanian flag, covering her mouth in shock, Ruta Meilutyte glanced up at the scoreboard in London's Aquatic centre on Monday and saw her name flash next to the winning time. When she was courted for a post-swim interview, she was speechless, unable to comprehend what she had just achieved. At just 15 years old, Meilutyte had won Lithuania's first-ever swimming medal and become the youngest woman to win the Olympic title.
Meilutyte no longer lives in Lithuania, though. Her mother died in a car accident in 2001, and at the age of 13, Meilutyte moved to Plymouth in England to live with her brother and father. She attends a local school with an elite swimming programme, the same school diver Tom Daley – who was 14 when he competed in Beijing – attended.
Ye Shiwen, aged 16, also put in a fantastic performance in the 400-metre individual medley, and her final 50m was faster than Ryan Lochte. Her performance raised a couple of eyebrows, and murmurs started that she could have been involved in doping, something which overshadowed her achievements in the pool – where she sliced five seconds off her personal best and more than a second off the world record. It was perhaps inevitable speculation, but the athlete was passed as clean by the Word Anti-Doping Agency.
The Olympic games has been laced with other controversies, too. South African equestrian Alexander Peternell had to take his battle to compete in the Games to court. Based in Britain, Peternell was initially omitted from South Africa's Olympic team and Paul Hart was selected ahead of him. Peternell filed a challenge to the decision with the court of arbitration for sport, which ruled that he met the selection-qualification criteria. He struggled in the cross-country circuit, though, posting one of the slowest times at the Greenwich Park circuit – a disappointing showing after a fierce fight for his right to compete.
Then there was the men’s gymnastics, where Great Britain won their first team medal in 100 years, and Japan nearly lost out in silver due to an error. Japan were originally placed in fourth, but moved up a spot after an appeal which centred on whether one of the Japanese gymnasts had been correctly rewarded for a partially botched dismount in the pommel horse. Three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura’s score was upgraded by 0.7 marks, enough to take Japan past Britain.
In the short time in which the Olympics has lit up London and made hibernating sports fans come out of hiding, it’s been a great spectacle, and the track events haven’t even started yet.
For all the criticism London faced ahead of the Games, there’s not been much to go wrong. While road closures are disruptive to the locals, everything seems to be running smoothly in the city and the spirit of the Olympics is truly alive around every street corner and tucked away inside every pub. With plenty of time still to go, it can only get better from here. DM
Photo: Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte kisses her gold medal after winning the women's 100m breaststroke final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 30, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne